Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lost in Space

A few weeks ago I saw a baby blue jay attempt and miss landing on a small branch. Fortunately the little fledgling didn't hurt himself; and after a few minutes on the ground, with a lot of encouragement from his parents, managed to fly up to another limb. We probably don't give birds enough credit for their spatial awareness. They manage to figure out where they are in space, where their landing spot is, and do it all in the wind. Of course, as the fledgling demonstrated -- it is a learning process. Compare an infant to a 9-year-old child and one can see that, even for humans, learning where one is in space is a process.  

"When conditions are good, babies learn spatial awareness with no special assistance." But even with good conditions some children have difficulty with spatial awareness. I knew that one of my 4th graders might have a spatial issue when at least one of these problems showed up:

  • A child would often head the wrong way out of the classroom to go to PE and lunch, even after several months of school.
  • A child might not know how many stories we had in our two-story school. One child guessed that there were five floors since "We go upstairs all the time." He appeared unaware of the times the class went down the stairs.
  • A child would have difficulty finding pages in a book. A request to turn to page 58 would have him slowly starting at page 60 page and moving forward turning pages. When asked "Is 58 less than 60?" the child could state that it was, but continue to go forward.
  • A child's handwriting was cramped and intermittently floated below and above the line.
  • A child might consistently have the correct letters in a word but write them in incorrect order. For example: a child who only had dyslexia might write sed for said. A child with a spatial problem might write asid or esd for the word said.
When these problems showed up I would refer the student to an Occupational Therapist (OT) for evaluation(including a visual perception test) and  therapy if needed. I wonder how much easier school would have been for these children if their spatial awareness problems had been discovered earlier than fourth grade.

Spatial problems can affect many areas in a child's academic life. A child with spatial problems may have:
  • Difficulty following directions - especially those involving words such as beneath, behind, right, left, etc.
  • Difficulty with handwriting - holding a pencil too tightly, constantly pushing too hard and breaking the point, writing above or below the line, or incorrectly spacing letters and words.
  • Difficulty reading and spelling - a child with dyslexia has problems with sound symbol recognition. Add a spatial problem and that child may have additional problems with order of letters or remembering to read left to right.
  • Difficulty in math - keeping numbers lined up, remembering to work right to left on addition and subtraction, understanding area, perimeter, or other geometric terms
  • Difficulty with other children - always stepping on heels in a line, forgetting which way to run in a game, difficulty with directions when playing a new group game
Some things to remember about spatial problems:
Most of us know adults who frequently get lost, can't follow directions, or are poor judges of distances when driving. Occupational therapists can screen your child for these types of  problems and, if needed, help your child understand and overcome these difficulties.


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